Two grains were lying side by side on the fertile soil.The first grain said: “I want to grow up! I want to put down roots deep into the ground and sprout from the ground. I dream to blossom in delicate buds and enjoy the coming of spring. I want to feel the warm rays of sun and the dew drops on my petals!”.
This grain grew up and became a beautiful flower.The second grain said: “I’m afraid. If I put down my roots into the ground, I don’t know what they will face there. If I grow tender stems, they can be damaged by wind. If I grow flowers, they may be disrupted. So, I’d rather wait for the safer time.
Thus, the second grain was waiting, until a chicken passed by and pecked it.
How has the pandemic affected us? Do you find that you, like the second grain, are waiting for a safer time? Do you find that, like the second grain, you have a residual fear?
Understandably, many of us are still afraid. Covid changed the world. In the poorest countries of the world, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty is not only still present, but it is worsening. Globally, the increase in poverty that occurred in 2020 due to the pandemic still lingers, and the pandemic-induced ‘new poor’ in 2021 continues to be 97 million people.
While much of the focus of the pandemic was on physical health, COVID-19 also took a serious toll on our mental health. In the first year of the pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%, according to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) this month. In some cases, people turned to alcohol, drugs, and unhealthy relationships with food as ways to deal with their feelings. And mental illness, addiction, eating disorders, domestic abuse, and suicide increased during the pandemic.
Would it be unfair to say that we were ill-prepared? Maybe we have naively focused too much on being the masters of the world, controllers of our destiny, conquerors of the planet, defiers of death – that when faced with uncertainty, faced with diminished control, faced with the unpredictable, faced with more controlling measures from our governments, we crumbled, and another pandemic spread.
The pandemic of fear may have occurred as a result of waking up to the realisation of how little control we truly have. And it has left psychological scars. Children are experiencing panic attacks, adults are left in a state of anxiety, many older people too are afraid to go out, not quite knowing how to feel safe in a world which they feel is out to get them.
Many psychologists believe building resilience is the antidote for the psychological residue of the pandemic. Resilience is not about being invincible; resilience is about being able to thrive through adversity.
When we are resilient, we might still fall, but we bounce back. Psychologists have shown that resilience is something that can be built and learnt. Dr Laurie Leitch, for example, works all around the world building capacity for resilience with communities responding to disaster. She trains individuals and groups to be more generative during times of stability and to adapt, reorganise, and grow in response to disruption. She says that if we train ourselves to respond to everyday situations, we are likely to handle larger problems in a more creative and effective manner.
How can we build our resilience so that we are better equipped to both thrive, hereon, and to be prepared for other disasters, without becoming hyper vigilant and anxious?
It’s easy to feel mentally strong when life is going well. But the disruption of the pandemic reminded many of us that we need to build our mental muscles every single day. Here are five psychological and philosophical ways to do this:
1. Recalling tough times we’ve experienced before helps us maintain confidence that we can handle more. Action: Reflect upon how you have managed challenging times and think about two personal qualities that helped you manage those previous tough times.
2. Be prepared but not over-vigilant. The Stoics had an unusual practice to build their personal strength; they would reflect (but not worry or ruminate) about disasters that might happen. Action: Reflect upon what might go wrong tomorrow. What would be the worst part? How would you survive?
3. Reframe your sense of your failures or weaknesses, so that your idea of ‘you’ is stronger. We cannot change the experiences we have, but we can change the way we look at them. You may have viewed yourself as failing at something and allowed this perspective to result in you thinking less of yourself. Perhaps, instead, you might reframe that failure and say to yourself that this means you tried and now you can learn. Action: Reflect upon a personal weakness or failure, and practice looking at this differently using words like ‘courageous’, ‘stepped out of my comfort zone’, ‘I tried’, and so on. And consider talking about your failures as much as you do your successes.
4. Resilient people are connected with others. If we spend time building our social support networks on a regular basis, we can draw upon them in stressful situations, rather than trying to cope alone. The key is to mindfully choose those from whom you seek support. Action: Hold a conversation with your close friends about resilience and what social resilience means to you all.
5. Review your achievements. Your self-confidence and resilience will increase when you’re able to say, ‘I can do this, and here’s the evidence’. Action: List the 10 things that you’re most proud of in a diary. And on a daily basis, at the end of the day, do as the Stoics did, and review the day by noting what you did well.
Farah Naz is a UK trained Psychotherapist of more than 30 years, and is a Clinical Hypnotherapist, with a special interest in neuroscience. She has worked with thousands of people globally for a range of issues. Farah has trained national organisations, corporate companies, doctors, teachers and health workers on psychological-related issues. Currently, she has an online international practice and a private practice in the Algarve.
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